Don’t ignore the underworld of poor team work.

No other discipline can deliver results as powerful as can OD in the domain of teamwork.

This having been said, too many OD practitioners look at teamwork out of context and proceed to work with organic teams or “cousin groups”  to develop team effectiveness before examining the context in which the team operates.

This post will focus on what an OD practitioner needs to both look at and deal with in order to create a context for team work, regardless of the specific team.

1) Does the organization have an expectation that clearer defined roles and responsibilities as well as adherence to process are essential to team work?

Because the truth is:  teamwork’s added value is that it compensates for the inability of process and total role clarity to enable the work flow. Often poor team work is a result of overdosing on process and clarity  to control work flow.

Creating a context for teamwork entails working on teamwork as a compensation for the system in order to get it to work.

2) Does the organization recruit team players at the top?

Because if the organization is led by people who maximise their subsystems. there “ain’t gonna be no teamwork”.

Creating a context for teamwork entails working on the optimization of subsystems at the top of the organization.

3) Does the organization fund face to face interaction?

No amount of technology can compensate for the alienation inherent in the global configuration of organizations. People who do not meet face to face will not be able to work well as a team, especially if the issues at hand are complex and need a lot of healthy heated interaction to solve.

Creating a context for teamwork entails insisting that face to face dialogue is budgeted.

4) Does the organization overcommit to its customers?

If the organization has hallucinatory  commitments to its customers, the entire organization will be covering their ass to show that they are not guilty for the inevitable slips that will occur in both schedules and costs. Teamwork in over committed organizations is a critical success factor, but very rare.

Creating a context for teamwork entails removing the “blame game” and working on the over commitment, not just the team work.

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New mindset and tools for middle managers upon the establishment of a union

The mindset of middle managers needs to change upon the establishment of a union. As the union flexes its muscles and establishes its power base, middle management must rethink its role domain and retool. This post related to changes which need to occur in the mindset of middle management.

  • Middle management needs to internalize that managing in a unionized shop is a new ball game. Part of the ball game is that senior management may be broadcasting that “nothing has changed”. Senior management is probably sending out the message: “you keep doing your job and we (whoever that is, probably Legal) will take care of the union”. However, this message is problematic as it illustrates the one of the very reasons why the union was established, eg, arrogance.
  • Over time, most unions become a partner in strategic and operational decision making. The more that management tries to make decisions “above their heads” of the union, the more militant the unions will become. Middle managers need to ensure that they engage their own senior management to avoid being used as an ineffective and damaging way to bypass legitimate union interests.
  • Middle management needs to understand the dynamic of union activity, understand the agendas of the union, build trust and proactively work with the union.  There is no “working around” the union via dealing with the so called “more sane” employees.
  • The employees will always defer to the union, because the union will take better care of them than management. So never bad mouth the union.
  • Partner with the union on a personal level and strategically. Senior managers come and go. The union is “built to last”. So it’s better learn about the new partner-for-life than working to neutralize their power.
  • It takes up to two years for a union leadership to exercise their muscles. But they do get strong and cannot be “managed” by an external legal firm. So learn to respect their interests early on in the game.

 

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Stop beating the dead horse of reorganizations and process clarity

In a recent post, I suggested that many organizational regulatory mechanisms that are in place to standardize organizational life may never work well anymore, because of a paradigm shift in what way organizations work.

In this post, I will spell out 3 doomed  mechanisms.

1) Enhancing Employee Engagement

The labour force appears to clearly understand that engagement is too often a manipulation which means” “bust your ass and do whatever it takes to help the company succeed”, even though management will and does fire staff without blinking an eyelid to make results look better in the short run.

Enhancing employee engagement as presently understood is  futile effort; there is a need to move beyond engagement sloganeering to address the need for a new contract between management and labour.

2) Frequent changes in structure

Management often relies on reorg after reorg as a medicine for nearly all organizational ailments. Changes of structure do not solve problems of trust, lack of transparency nor do they compensate for incompetence.

Managers use this medicine and board members “put up” with these reorganizations because it is “doing”, and buys time. Yes, what I am saying is that the motive for reorgs is often political.

OD consultants over 40 know (and all staff) know that these frequent reorganizations take place in order to avoid change.

3) Obsessive Clarification of the process

Process needs some clarity but organizational reality is very, very complex and one cannot define away complexity via process. In extreme global complexity, organizations need to develop appropriate staffing, team work, and cooperation instead of obsessing about process quality. 

In the dying OD profession, those of us who do still work should not spend too much time to make outdated mechanisms work.

OD should focus on implementing change and not reorganizations, rebuilding the social contract between management and labour, and building teamwork and trust.

Clients which smell the coffee desist from beating the dead horse of more reorgs and overdosing on process clarity. And those who don’t use change managers and OD consultants the wrong way.

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The perfect storm: The fearful HR clerk and the OD “brush salesman”

In my previous very widely read post, I described the imperfect nature of the OD intervention.

The goal of this post is to link these imperfect OD interventions to what is happening to HR, which often commissions external OD interventions.

The positioning of HR organizations is in a state of drastic decline. HR domain has been cannibalized by IT technology, Legal Departments as well as by the declining perceived value of the resource that HR represents, i.e. people and their loyalty/satisfaction.

As a result of HR’s speedy and painful demise, the anxiety level of the remaining HR executives is sky high. Management and peers of HR constantly “question the value” of HR, as illustrated in the satiric HR Gloria blog. Like a third rate politician frightened by plummeting rating, HR becomes motivated by fear.

There is a still a group of HR managers, mainly (but not only) in their 40s +, who stand their ground and do an admirable job in this hostile environment. However there is also a younger set of HR managers , transactional technicians,  who accept that the HR consists of sycophancy to the regime  (obsequious flattery) and transactional efficiency. These HR technicians guard their position by “apparent effectiveness” and wow-wowing, i.e., organizational cheer leading.

At the meeting point between the imperfect world of OD interventions and the anxiety of transactional HR technicians, the perfect storm occurs.The OD practitioners can only commit to a process that questions the regime’s assumptions, and the HR technician deals with its own anxiety by wow wowing and cheer leading.

The result of the perfect storm is that the type of OD intervention which is chosen by HR is aligned with the fear level of HR and not the needs of the organization. The OD “vendor” must ensure that the intervention is fun, measure-able, and creates a wow buzz. Luckily for HR, there are many OD hacks who have morphed into doing this shit.

Just to provide a small example. Recently I received a call from the HR manager of a company which had recently been acquired. The call went like this, “Hi this is Dorit speaking. I am the HR manager of XXX, which has recently been purchased by YYY. Do you have an “engagement package” for technical staff. And how much does it cost?. I need this by 2 pm”.

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When change is failing, don’t fall into a trap

OD consultants and other change professionals are commissioned at times by clients who are stuck and dither when facing a serious problem.

Two examples:

Take the merging 3 small companies into one and management insisting on “creating a new culture, based on the best parts of the 3 companies.” Management dithered on this issue for two years with the hope that things would somehow stabilize as the social fabric fell apart in political warfare.

Or, take the example of a company which needed  to really commit itself to transparency with its own staff to ensure credibility, yet focused on word-smithing, sweet-talking and sloganeering as the company employees become more and more “militant” and unionizes.

In such situations there is natural tendency of the consultant to push hard for decisiveness. And to make matters worse,  when  decisive action does not occur, the client may even blame the consultant for the slow pace of change!

Here is the crunch: If you push the client too hard because YOU want to succeed, then you may find yourself out on your ass. On the other hand if you accept the clients’ pace, you become part of the system.

This problem has no easy fix. For those of us who have learned to drive in heavy snow, it is helpful to remember how to free yourself from a snow bank….backwards and forwards, slowly, until you get the leverage to jolt forward.

And remember, ultimately it is the clients’ mess, not yours. If you feel that you are the one who is failing, your actions as a consultant will probably be less effective.

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In what way does living in the Middle East impact how I practice Organization Development

Man is but a template of  the landscape of his homeland, wrote the poet Shaul Tchernichovsky. These are atrociously difficult times in the Middle East, days which have led me to think about this statement of his.

In this post. I want to delve into the ways that living in the Middle East has shaped the way that I approach the practice of Organization Development. For the sake of brevity, I shall limit myself to 3 major influences that the Mid East has had on my OD work.

1) The hopeless of solving problems teaches the importance of setting realistic expectations

The middle east conflict is insoluble. Religion, poisonous exclusionary  narratives, energy, water, righteousness, tribalism, world war 1 leftovers, Sykes-Picot  and world politics have created the ultimate cesspool for a “perfect” conflict to perpetuate itself.

Living in such a situation decade after decade leads to questions like: what can and cannot be changed? Where is the value: visionary goals and long term strategy?  What can be solved,  what needs to be managed and where is it wise to give up?

The reality of hopelessness breads a very healthy approach to setting appropriate expectations. I don’t tend to sell rose gardens.This realism on my part has led to trust being developed over the years.Clients know I do not bullshit them. I promise less and deliver more that  wow-wow yes we can optimists who live in places where the sky is the limit.

2) Chaos is a system

To get things done in the Middle East, one must understand how the “system” works, because nothing is the way it appears to be. There are accoutrements of western ways, western dress, technology and widespread use of English. But the Middle East ain’t Canada, the US, Germany, Britain or Switzerland. Understanding the  underworld of relationships. corruption, ethnicity and insider/outsider dynamics can shed light on situations which appear undecipherable.Underneath the veneer of the West is another system that has a rhyme and reason of its own. For all its foibles, it is what is it is, and it is the “currency” people use.

As an OD consultant, I tend to somewhat downplay the  organizational veneer, structure, process and HR sloganeering. Instead I tend to look at power/politics,relationships and trust, and Darwin.

I have no naive stars in my eyes which prod me to promulgate my world view about what organizations should look like. Rather, I work with what there is.

The mid east is all about survival, and equipped with this insight and applying it to organizational reality, so much falls into place.

3) Be pragmatic and get real

For many years, I was an Organization Development in the Israel Defence Forces. Liberated from commercial interests, I was free to practice OD “comme il faut”. Freed from “pleasing” the commanders for whom I worked,I learnt to challenge authority all the time. This has been a real gift to me.

However the real value of doing OD for an army of a country at war is zero tolerance for theorizing or pontificating, so to speak. Either the consulting is pragmatic or she/she is sidelined.

……………………………………………………………………………………………….

Living in the Middle East is a painful, frustrating and at times debilitating reality. However,I believe I am a better consultant for having learnt and practised OD in this hopeless yet fascinating neck of the woods.

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Strategy Shift for HR after the establishment of a union

The long struggle against unionization is generally led by internal and external lawyers, board representatives, the CEO, HR and in some cases by a PR firm.

In my country, the last two years have shown that although the struggle against unionization fails, every management team tends to fight the war to prevent it from happening.

After the war against unionization is over and the union is established, the role of HR undergoes a major strategic shift. This post will spell out the suggested strategy shift for Human Resources professionals after unionization is a fact of life.

1) First we need to understand how the battle against unionization is waged.

During the battle against the establishment of a Union, management claims that there are “good guys” and “bad guys”, employees who care about the company and those who want to destroy the company, the noisy minority who wants a union and the silent majority who supposedly does not want a union.

When a union is established, the union becomes the sole voice of labour. So, the first shift in strategy is that HR must work thru the union and only the union, after its establishment. The good guys and all the silent majority become irrelevant. If HR maintains a parallel dialogues with the Union and the staff, the way that the Union operates will be much more militant and brutal.

2) Second, we need to look at the division of labour between Legal and HR after a union has been established.

The struggle against unions is very lucrative business for the legal profession. Even “in house legal” gains  lots of power in the struggle against the establishment of a union. During the struggle against the establishment of the Union, lawyers generally call the shots. At times, the firms’ lawyers even talk to the press directly! After a union is established, the legal folks don’t really want to move out of the space they occupied in their struggle against the union.

Yet, lawyers cannot manage industrial relations after the establishment of a union, the second shift of strategy is repositioning “legal” in a more minor position, and re-positioning HR to become the owner of the industrial relations portfolio. This is a difficult shift in strategy, because getting control of industrial relations means a battle with the internal and external legal folks. In many cases, the CEO will also want to manage the industrial relations portfolio. (It takes up to 2 years before a CEO learns how stupid this is).

3) The third strategic shift is the change of narrative and behaviour.  After a union is established, the narrative within management and the narrative with the union needs to change.

During the struggle against unionization, management rhetoric becomes heated and the same empty slogans are repeated again and again. “The company will be ruined by a union”. “We cannot compete if we are unionized” etc. ad nauseam.

After the establishment of a union, many words said during the struggle need to be “taken back” and narratives need to be rewritten.


The monumental task of repositioning HR after the establishment of a Union are probably the most interesting task an HR manager or OD consultant can take on. Stakes are high, yet there is a protocol for success. So my suggestion is follow the protocol and do not improvise.

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If organizations are like zoos, what does this mean for a consultant?

In organizations, the best and worst of human natures’ forces are at play.

Along with compensation, the achievements and innovations of organizational life, organizations are also zoos where Darwin’s battle for the survival of the fittest transpires.

The ability to cooperate and communicate along with selfishness, back-stabbing deception and manipulation live side by side.

Several factors impact between the positive and negative:

  • The worst the economic situation is, the more likely it is that negative behaviour will dominate as managers often almost cannibalize one another in an effort to survive.
  • The personality of the CEO and the staffing of key management positions have an impact on the precarious balance between good and bad. It must be noted that people who reach the top are often the master of Darwinism.
  • The technology itself often impacts the balance between the forces. A software shop,a call center, an accountancy firm and a System Integrator will all strike a different balance because the need for cooperative behaviours in getting the job done varies.

The consultant is often called in to change the balance between positive and negative. So it is important to ask with what basic assumptions about human behaviour do (and should) consultants bring to the table in order to tinker with the balance.

Some consultants behave like born againers, preachers, and yes-we caners, raw rawing the employees to set aside their bad behaviours and see the Lord. Many coachers, change consultants, traditional OD consultants and OD-product vendors fall in the category. Members of the OD establishment also dwell herein, because it is such a good selling point.

Other consultants try to remain neutral, pragmatically accessing each situation for its merit.

Others, like me, prefer to assume that egoism, back-stabbing, bad politics etc. are like pain, which need to be accepted and managed as part of the system. Not only can these negatives not be driven away, these negatives are enablers and a legitimate part of the eco system of human organizing. No cheerleading or rosy optimism can drive them away. Like the animal keeper, the consultant should know/respect context in which the lion operates.

(This is time for me to “thank” the pain I feel as a daily runner. Were the pain not to have slowed me down, I would have been dead long ago.)

 

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Besides consulting, I am the keeper of Georges, who watches me write the blog

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Power Games within the Organization Development Community

Because of the Western bias of Organization Development, OD’s concepts, values and tools are inappropriate in global organizing.

Global OD is a platform which enables various cultures to work together to get things done without cultural imposition of OD’s western ways.

Once global OD’s appropriateness is accepted, a lot of western OD interventions done today will be akin to  “bloodletting” to treat a headache.

I have lectured on Global OD in  Vancouver, London, Hong Kong, Munich, Paris and Tel Aviv. My presentations are always well attended and lively. But nevertheless, the plenary sessions of these conventions where I lecture are always about mainstream OD, given by people from the established school of OD. I am a  bizarre character from who will present……a sideshow! I am “Side Show Bob”, the character from the Simpsons. No need to worry; mainstream OD is in control.

Imagine what it means if indeed I am correct about Global OD’s relevance and Western OD’s inappropriateness in global organizations? 

It means that there is a Western OD power establishment which can (and will) be replaced with people who have the skills to do OD appropriately in a global organizations, without ramming western values down peoples’ throats, to  be polite.

Global OD’s will  detract from Western OD’s dominance of “the truth”. The Western OD establishment is not quite ready for that. For example, on the ODN list,  I felt that I was constantly alienating main streamers by my ranting about Global OD.  I was seen as not civil enough, an instigator with style issues. I  did not promote Global OD in a nice enough manner. I spoke my truths, without being so damn f—king nice.They got angry and I left.

Nowadays, many folks on LinkedIn try to co-opt my ideas saying that they are all for cultural awareness. (Global OD is about acting differently, NOT cultural awareness.)

In retrospect, some of the resistance to my ideas is content- based and a lot of the resistance is based on OD opinion leaders clinging to their power. They cling to the paradigms in which they are comfortable.

Were I to organize a OD conference, many of the classical OD interventions would not even get a slot as a side show, because of their antiquity and inappropriateness. Applying Western OD to global organizations is preposterous, and Western OD opinions leaders have a lot to lose if I am right.

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Dealing with trust issues that become exacerbated by the speed of business (revised)

Acute trust issues between people in different geographies in global organizations is not uncommon. This post looks at what can be done to address the issue, especially when the speed of  doing business in the global organization exacerbates the level of mistrust.

Speed exacerbates mistrust between various cultures because it accentuates conflict. When the cycle of business is slower, conflict can be mitigated in the context of sustainable relationships. This is not the case when  organizational life is moving rapidly, powered by technology and by the 24/7 “follow the sun” cycle of organizational life. In such instances, decisions need to be made on the spot and in real time, imposing a style of  “openness” and directness, which are seen as trust breakers in Asia, many parts of Africa, and South America.

To be effective in dealing with trust issues caused by speed,  the western form of conflict management serves as  one option. The western values of directness, openness and expediency certainly have their advantages in getting things to move faster. No doubt-the ability to move quickly is the greatest forte of the western style of doing business.

However the idea that “face saving and opaqueness just slow things down”, which sounds like a compelling argument for the dominance of western values does not justify (in my view) force-feeding western values.

I suggest a different approach when dealing with the mistrust inflicted by “speed”. If we agree that speed forces communication which is too direct for some employees, there are several prophylactic steps which can be taken.

1) Focus on staffing of key positions appropriately. It makes no sense whatsoever to have people with substandard communication skills and poor emotional intelligence in “busy junctions”, regardless of their technical ability.

2) Use expats and people of mixed ethnicity to “cushion” areas of acute conflict, instead of focusing on “Americanizing a Thai”, or creating a Japanese Israeli.

3) Instead of promulgating a simplistic “can do” attitude, acknowledge the problems and difficulties of execution even whilst moving at high speed. A gung ho  “can do” attitude is deeply flawed when applied blindly to deep rooted problems of trust caused by speed.  Demonstrating humility in face of great challenge may be more useful than being naive or arrogant cheer leading.

5) Focus efforts on a deep understanding of cultural gaps, providing a detailed protocol for communication in 3 areas- oral, email and chat. Ensure that team member foster relationships instead of just expediting tasks.

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